(Seniors Matter) Owning a pet can be one of the most rewarding life experiences. While animals provide a sense of companionship and support to owners of all ages, those in the senior age range can benefit the most from taking care of a furry friend. Pet ownership not only eases feelings of loneliness and distress among seniors, but it also helps aid in cognitive engagement as well.
A recent study shows that long-term pet ownership contributes to a slower cognitive decline among seniors, specifically pet owners of more than five years.
“As stress can negatively affect cognitive function, the potential stress-buffering effects of pet ownership could provide a plausible reason for our findings,” said Tiffany Braley, MD, of the University of Michigan Medical Center, in an article published by the American Academy of Neurology. “A companion animal can also increase physical activity, which could benefit cognitive health.”
What should my older adult consider before getting a pet?
Each animal can vary in maintenance level and costs, depending on several factors such as size, age and breed of the pet. It’s also important to consider what type of animal is best suited for your seniors needs based on the following:
- Mobility – Does your older adult have a hard time getting around the house or pose a high-fall risk? If so, look into smaller-sized pets that are able to stay in a cage or tank during the day. This won’t require your senior to walk around as frequently or do as much strenuous activity to care for their pet.
- Income – Analyze your older adult’s finances and determine if the costs for a pet would be feasible. Depending on the type of animal, annual costs for a pet can run anywhere from $450 for a fish to an estimated $9,000 for a dog. Try creating a budget with your older loved one to decide which animal would be most affordable.
- Allergies – Elderly individuals are at higher risk for having pet allergies due to a weakened immune system, making it more difficult to combat airborne diseases. If your senior has any known allergies, try to accommodate them by looking at animals that are hypo-allergenic or furless, such as fish, reptiles and even hairless cats.
- Coping skills – Although caring for an animal can promote happiness and good spirits, it can also induce more stress. Evaluate your older adult’s mental health and determine how they would handle traumatic events, such as the death of their pet or the potential risk of having to give up their animal.